Walid Joumblatt | Lebanese parliamentarian, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party
More than ever I doubt the possibility of Lebanon’s being independent because of the actual situation of the country, whereby it is a theater of conflict for rival regional and international interests.
More than ever I doubt the chance of Lebanon’s being independent and behaving in the interest of its citizens, for the simple reason that there are entrenched connections between most political parties and the country’s confessional groups.
More than ever I doubt the opportunity of Lebanon’s being independent from acute social inequalities due to the greed of the banks and the lavish corruption of the ruling class, without any exception.
More than ever I doubt that we will address with the utmost urgency the need to be independent from the pollution that is ravaging our nature, our sea, our water, our air, and our health thanks to the absence of civic behavior among most Lebanese.
So, Independence Day is just a yearly repetition of an obsolete show that is being held with the same actors, or new ones.
Farès Sassine | Former professor of philosophy at the Lebanese University, co-author, with Ghassan Tueni and Nawaf Salam, of The Book of the Independence (in Arabic and French from Dar al-Nahar)
Since Lebanon gained its sovereignty in 1943, and even before, under the Mutassarrifiyya of 1861–1920, the very condition of an independent Lebanon was the fruit of an international consensus. All the great powers were implicated in its existence, protecting Lebanon from aggressive neighbors and from internal efforts that could lead to the country’s implosion.
So, we can say by implication that the other condition for independence, and certainly the most important, is the unity of Lebanon’s different components. Those components, which came initially from the Ottoman Empire and developed under the French Mandate and the Lebanese republic, are religious communities, some more important than others. But what is new, without being totally new, is the allegiance of these communities, or more precisely of their dominant political “representatives,” to other countries in the region that are now very hostile to one another.
That is why Lebanon, though it is a great historical achievement for all its inhabitants in a number of ways, cannot be independent without alliances between its divided communities, and without a new generation to defend a Lebanon of free and equal citizens that transcends communitarian loyalties. Such a new civil generation will not simply replicate the current political elite. Rather, it can be more widespread and popular, because it is implicated in the struggle against corruption and exploitation and is looking to give more opportunities to a larger part of the population. This generation also knows that Lebanon must have a defense strategy in which the state has a monopoly over violence and can impose its authority over all parties.
Leila Fawaz | Issam M. Fares professor of Lebanese and eastern Mediterranean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, author of A Land of Aching Hearts: The Middle East in the Great War (Harvard University Press), chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, awarded in 2012
Lebanon’s story is one of confluence and compromise. That seems an obvious statement, but one that was worth considering on Independence Day this week. This land, this people, this state are at the confluence of Western and Arab, ancient and modern, as well as of myriad religions. The meeting of these tides necessitated the compromise which underpins modern Lebanese society.
The Lebanese people have not always been the principal agents. The 1861 compromise, when Mount Lebanon came to be governed by a non-Muslim Ottoman official under the Mutassarrifiyya, was not just negotiated by the Ottoman center and the Lebanese periphery, but also involved foreign agents. And local ambitions during World War I went unfulfilled under the postwar Mandate system. Even independence in the midst of World War II came as a form of compromise, but then history offers no singular path to sovereignty.
It is worth considering such historic trajectories today when Lebanon seems threatened with another crisis from without. Political uncertainty is a hallmark of our era, both in the West and Arab world, and therefore a panorama offers no change of view of political landscapes. Instead perhaps one must look back and remember that the people who make up this modern state were dyed in the Tyrian wellspring of antiquity.
William Harris | Professor of politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand, and author of Lebanon: A History, 600–2011 (Oxford University Press)
Lebanon’s nature as a jumble of communal and political minorities makes it difficult for any internal party or external power to corral it, hijacking state “independence.” The country’s central location in the Middle East compels any aspirant hegemon to face other regional and great powers. Probably no one can repeat the direct presence-based domination the Syrian regime exerted in the special conditions of the 1990s and early 2000s.
That said, Hezbollah and Iran have today achieved an overshadowing influence in the state and the security apparatus, while Saudi Arabia has sought to respond through the Sunni prime minister and community. Lebanon’s independence means limited maneuvering space amid a menagerie of such powers, even as the country wields the actually quite potent assets of sovereignty, albeit sometimes theoretical, and club membership of the international community.
Iranian influence, for example, is ultimately vulnerable to accumulating resentments, Hezbollah’s own permanent minority status in Lebanon, and Iranian strategic overstretch through Iraq and Syria. Iran’s competitors include its Russian ally, jealously guarding its leading role in western Syria. Lebanon can resist steerage if its leaders have the necessary nerve and personal autonomy, and it has shown that it can manage paralysis. Lebanese independence may not amount to much, but the Kurds of Iraq would love to have it.
Marc Géara | Activist and candidate on the Beirut Madinati list in Lebanon’s municipal elections of May 2016
Like every year on Independence Day, the Lebanese will wonder that kind of independence they are celebrating! The question has a special flavor this year, with the apparent recent detention against his will of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in Saudi Arabia.
However, 2017 comes after 2013, 2015, and 2016, when civil society mobilized against the behavior of a political class that is divided according to its regional and international loyalties and, at the same time, has acted collectively to plunder the country. Parliamentarians have extended their mandate unconstitutionally several times and politicians covered the country in garbage in 2015 because they could not agree on their respective shares in the lucrative garbage collection business. But they also fought, in a united way, against civil society in highly competitive local elections in Beirut and many other towns and villages in 2016. All those events have created a different atmosphere in the country. It may not yet be spring, but perhaps the winter that precedes it.
The Lebanese are ripe for independence from leaders who have been unable to provide their constituencies with a minimum level of services. We feel that the ingredients for emancipation are available and that they only require a catalyst. Will that catalyst be civil society, which may eventually be transformed into a united political force for change? The challenge is difficult but it is worth a try!